Why I am Thankful This Thanksgiving: I HAVE AN ART JOB.

So, guys, after over two and a half years of searching and doubt and self-loathing and anger and sadness and misery at the state of the economy, I finally achieved my goal: I have attained a job in the art world.  I promised myself that this blog would not be a venting place for my fury at the universe during my job search, and I also promised myself that I could write a big, long, venty post chronicling my journey–but only when I achieved my goal of attaining a professional, full-time position in the art world.  So here’s my post.  I am glad to finally share it with you.

This is a big deal.  I have wanted to work in the arts since I was sixteen and I took Advanced Placement Art History with the amazing Pat Johnston at Pine View School for the Gifted.  I loved the course, excelled in the classwork, and got my well-earned 5 on my AP exam (I’m not still proud of that or anything).  After the class I decided that a job in the arts, preferably in a museum or gallery setting, would be my thing, and I behaved accordingly, so accordingly that I can summarize it in bullet points y’all:

-I majored in Art History and English at the University of Florida.  I wrote an honor’s thesis for my Art History major and graduated summa cum laude (I’m not still proud of that or anything either).

-I interned at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, the University of Florida’s art museum, for a good year and a half.  I spent one semester in the education department as part of a group initiative to plan programming for the undergraduate population at UF and I spent a year interning for the curator of contemporary art.

The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Florida, a great museum, you should go!

-I then launched myself straight into graduate school in Art History, heading to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to pursue my Master’s and eventually (I hoped, back then) my Ph.D.

-While at UNC I interned at the North Carolina Museum of Art, co-curated an exhibit at UNC’s affiliate museum the Ackland Art Museum, and secured a summer internship at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  This was the spring of 2009 and this, guys, this is where the bullet points need to end, because things get messy.

The Modern and Contemporary Galleries in the new building at the North Carolina Museum of Art
The Ackland Art Museum

You know when you’re in a relationship and you feel things are going along quite nicely and then your partner comes home from work and says “we have to talk” and next thing you know you are packing up your boxes and moving onto a friend’s couch?   Well that’s sort of what happened to me, except the academic version.  I was going along in graduate school, writing my Master’s thesis on a graphic novel, getting good grades, turning everything in on time, making sure that my paperwork was correct,  getting awesome internships, and generally doing all the right things.  And then the Director of Graduate Studies (there is a new one in the department now, so don’t send her hate mail or anything, the old Director of Graduate Studies was removed from her position because she was more or less incompetent)  e-mails me all “we have to talk” and next thing I know I am being told that I do not have a place in the Ph.D. program the following fall.  Oh, also, did I mention that it was two weeks before the end of spring semester, I had renewed my lease in Chapel Hill, and I had accomplished nothing in the form of job-hunting because I thought I was still going to be in school?  Understandably I was a little miffed.  Okay, a lot miffed, and I ended up drinking an entire bottle of wine by myself that night and crying myself to sleep.

The break up from graduate school was all the cliche things you can imagine: shattering and horrible and terrible and sad.  I was furious, because I had done everything right, and yet I had somehow fallen through the cracks.  Really–there is no other explanation than that.   I had additional, white-hot fury from the fact that all of the professors in the department, including my thesis adviser, had known for several months that I was not in the fall 2009 Ph.D. program and no one bothered to tell me.  They simply let me wander around while talking about future independent studies and my courses for the following year, content in my assumed knowledge that I was set.  One or two professors took note of my plight after the break-up, but most just kept ignoring it.   I did have a meeting with the chairwoman of the department, who was more or less ignorant to everything that had happened, and she even invited me back into the department, but at that point I was so furious I decided to decline.  Why would I want to work with a group of people who wouldn’t even advocate for me?  In hindsight I am glad I did not continue on with my Ph.D.; the academy is a rough and scary place, and a dissertation is a big life commitment.  I just wish the decision had been mine to make.

And besides, I still had my internship at the Whitney to look forward to, as the Director of Graduate studies mentioned constantly to me during our “break up talk” (she’s lucky I didn’t punch her in the face).  The Whitney was, indeed, super fun, but everyone I met at the internship was terrified: we’d all just graduated with our Master’s in Art History or Museum Studies, none of us had any job prospects, and the Whitney staff kept reminding us about “the economy” by saying things like “Oh, we usually like to hire our interns, but since THE ECONOMY has gotten so bad we don’t do that anymore.”  I hate you, economy.

The Whitney, but not for much longer, they're moving downtown in a few years.

Oh but, also, this blog was started to chronicle my summer at the Whitney, so at least I got that from my internship!  The blog, keeping my dreams alive, y’all.  Keeping my dreams alive.

I tossed around the idea of staying in New York City, but there were no jobs, and I still wasn’t finished with my life in North Carolina, so I left the city and returned to the Chapel Hill-Durham area after the end of my internship.  I had my friends in North Carolina and I also had a new relationship that I didn’t want to abandon–yes, I know, gambling on love is silly and risky but I think it worked out pretty well, since Jon and I now live together in domestic harmony with our two cats.  I do not regret leaving the city and coming back to North Carolina.  Could I have gotten an art job more quickly had I lived in New York?  Probably.  Would I have been stressed out and neurotic and living in a rat trap on too little money while having a lot of one-night stands?  Likely.  Anyways, I made my decision, but there was definitely a lot of doubt about that decision over the past few years (the leaving New York City part, not the deciding to make it work with Jon and my friends and my life in North Carolina part, too bad I couldn’t combine New York City with my North Carolina people).

I got a job about six weeks after moving back to North Carolina, in September of 2009.  The position was a full-time retail and marketing associate at a high-end jewelry store, and while I loved the jewelry and truly enjoyed meeting amazing designers from all over the world, retail just wasn’t for me.  I learned a lot, however, and it was excellent having a steady paycheck and supporting myself for the first time in my life.  I continued to apply for art and museum jobs on the side, figuring that something would work out eventually, but my resumes and cover letters were mostly met with silence.  Which was frustrating.  In April of 2011 I got so frustrated by the echoing, cavernous silence that I decided to quit my jewelry store job (farewell, endless jewelry chest) and go gung-ho on the job search.  I had my parents’ blessing and financial support, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Ungh. Guys.  It was six months of more silence.  I got a (very) part-time job working for a local artist, who is great and lovely and talented and if you have HBO you should watch the documentary about her which is airing in February, it is called Raising Renee, but the job just wasn’t paying the bills.  I was sending out resume after resume after resume and it was looking incredibly dire.  I wasn’t limiting myself geographically–I was applying anywhere a position was listed although I was concentrating my search in Northeastern metropolitan areas and in the Triangle area of North Carolina.  I interviewed at a few places but did not get any of the jobs–oh, the museums would also take months to make a damn decision which was also, as you can imagine, frustrating.

I was pretty desperate at this point–as were/are a lot of people my age, in my boat.  Maybe we all sound like over-entitled whiners, but I felt like it was my right to whine!  We  (just assume the “we’s” mostly mean “me” or “I”) had all been over-achievers in high school, we had gone to good colleges and made good grades, some of us went to good graduate programs and made good grades, and  we had worked at excellent internships.  We had  done everything right.  We had followed all the rules.  And our reward–our good, stable job with benefits and health insurance–was not to be found.  I don’t want to get all Occupy Wall Street here but I was definitely feeling the overall ennui and misery and end of the American Dream thing.  Oh this was also compounded by the lingering anxiety from my graduate school break up.  That was sort of a big giant wrench thrown into the otherwise smooth path of my life, y’all.  SIGH.  LAME.  ANYWAYS.

In September I expanded my job search to include social media jobs.  I ended up taking a job in that area in late October and I found myself hating it from the very beginning.  The social media aspects were fine but the organization and I were not right for each other, and so I began frantically considering other options.

And luckily I did have options!  I’d applied for the Artist Services Manager position at the Durham Arts Council in August (like I said above, slow decision making), and they had interviewed me.  Amazingly, I was offered the job earlier this month.  HUZZAH.  The skies had opened, guys, and light was shining.  I was doing my version of the victory dance–basically the Elaine, but with a little less thumb-jabbing–during the entirety of my phone call with my new supervisor.

The Durham Arts Council, the latest stop on my journey.

I gave my notice to my other, short-lived job last week (they dismissed me immediately despite my believing that a two-weeks notice was the nice and proper and professional thing to do, like I said that organization wasn’t for me) and I will be starting at the Durham Arts Council on December 5th.  I am beyond excited: I get to work in the arts, I don’t have to move, and I get to work in downtown Durham which is one of the most interesting and fastest growing areas in the Triangle.  Jon’s office is relocating from Carrboro to downtown Durham in January, which is even better.  I get to keep my lovely North Carolina life while finally, finally starting my career!

And that, really, was what was so agonizing about the last two and a half plus years.  I was just so ready to get my life started and it simply wasn’t happening.  I listened to the Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start” a lot, despite the fact that it was only sort of related (whatever guys, don’t hate).  I moped around.  I watched a lot of Ellen and Oprah.  But that’s done guys!  Now I can finally get my career in the arts rolling, and I am so ready.  So so ready.

So I am thankful, this Thanksgiving (well, day after) for my new art job.  I am thankful for the support system of my friends, family, and especially my parents and boyfriend, who dealt with and calmed me down and supported me emotionally and financially these past few years and especially these last six months.  I don’t want to get too gushy, guys, but I am super serious about how awesome the people around me are.  And I am also thankful that I didn’t give up the search–I knew it would all work out eventually, I just hoped that it wouldn’t take quite so long!  All good things, etc.

I hope y’all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and have many things for which to be thankful.  Now that I am no longer in the throes of misery (this past month was rough y’all, up until I got my new job offering yay!) I should be posting more regularly.  I’ve missed writing and I’ve missed you.  I’m looking forward to getting back to this blog, and to only good things in the future.

5 thoughts on “Why I am Thankful This Thanksgiving: I HAVE AN ART JOB.

  1. Good luck in the new job, sounds like you have turned a corner. I was lucky enough to visit the Whitney last year – a great place but it sounds like they lost a passionate arts supporter. Cheers Sue

  2. Oh, thank the Goddess. Somebody should live the dream.

    When I went to law school, I had every intention of doing art contract work. All my volunteer/etc work was in such things. I can write a contract for an artist/musician/gallery/museum/whatevertheeffyouwant in my sleep. I can subtly screw the big corporation trying to make money on the back of an artist while still giving said corporation most of what they want. Loves it.

    Reality check: You only get to do that stuff at the END of your career, after you’ve screwed the artist enough times that the establishment trusts you. And wants to give you money, or you don’t need a paycheck anymore. The stuff I went to school for is the karmic payback people do after they are big bad masters of the universe for thirty years. And I have absolutely no desire to screw the artist (unless we are talking in literal terms, of course) and being a master of the universe seems awfully sucky to me. Thus I spend my days getting people divorced, and dealing with child support issues, and (when I am lucky, which is a bizarre feeling) talking to people about end of life issues and death because I really love writing estate planning documents. it is like being a therapist, but you get to divide the money and give stuff to charities. Like museums, and symphonies, and operas, and blah blah blah. Hence the art connection. I also get to do some copyright and related work, which is pretty cool.

    Anywho, my career drift was because of the economy too. I graduated in Seattle in the middle of the dot.com bust. No money, no jobs, no hope. It was terrible. So this is my longwinded way of saying…

    OMIGOD THAT IS SO GREAT FOR YOU! I FEEL YOUR PAIN, AND I CELEBRATE ON YOUR BEHALF!!!! People who got lucky and got out of school at the exact right time have no idea that they are lucky. Some of us (like you) do everything right and still get screwed. I am seriously so happy for you.

    And now I feel like a tool because I didn’t know you worked at the Whitney and it is my absolute favorite museum in NYC. I can stare at Jay DeFeo’s The Rose for hours. Literally.

    Such a big grin on my face for you. Congrats. Have some champagne. You earned it.

    1. Thanks so much! You’re super sweet, especially because we’ve never officially met. =) The Whitney was a great place to intern and it is an awesome museum. If you go back to the veryveryvery beginning of the blog you’ll get all my stuff about LIFE IN NYC and WORKING AT THE WHITNEY except it is all, of course, sort of fake, because interning for one summer in NYC isn’t really the same as living in the city.

      We had an art lawyer come talk to the art school at UF back when I was in undergrad, but he was the kind of guy who ensured that works stolen during the Holocaust were returned to their original owners/families. Both my parents are lawyers and so I never had any great desire to go to law school. My father does real estate law with a focus on mobile home park law (he helps tenants purchase their lots/land from the big bad landlords) and my mother does 100% estate planning and tax law. They both enjoy that they get to help people and I know that my mother has assisted a lot of people with working out their assets at the end of their lives. She actually does quite a bit of end-of-life business because my hometown is a retirement town and some of these retirees are LOADED. However, I know after 30+ years of practicing law they’re ready to retire or whatever, heh. Neither of them pressured me into going to law school, and seeing how a lot of my law school graduate friends are currently super duper in debt (hundreds of thousands of dollars) and working in RETAIL, well, I’m glad I didn’t go that route.

      i hope that one day you get to practice the sort of law about which you dream. It is so so so hard to find a job that you love, and I’m really excited to get to work in my field. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some on the blog.

      Thanks again for all the well wishes, it is nice to be finally living the dream!

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